Noisy! Messy! Pretty?

Common Grackle_20100426_Pueblo_LAH_3928

The neighborhood seemed quiet this morning. Was it the overcast skies and drizzle muting all sound? Was it that the kids are back in school instead of riding bikes around our cul-de-sac? It took me a bit of thinking before I realized what was missing.

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Black Widows

widow_cottonwoodcyn-comanchenatlgrasslands-co_lah_6041The black spider crept across the basement floor, venom glistening from its deadly jaws. While the unsuspecting heroine rummaged through some boxes, the spider crept closer, and yet closer, until…

It’s a familiar scenario for a scary movie, but there isn’t much truth to the image of the malevolent black widow stalking its human prey. Yes, these spiders are venomous, and yes, they can bite us and do damage. But Black Widows really need a new image. They’re actually shy and retiring creatures who desperately want nothing to do with us humans.

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Black Vultures

Black Vultures_EvergladesNP-FL_LAH_4670When we first saw the sign, during our recent visit to Everglades National Park, we thought it was funny. What can a bird do to our car (besides the obvious, I mean)?

Then we looked around. Black Vultures were everywhere—in the trees, on the ground, and yes, pecking at the cars. Most people had used the tarps provided to protect their cars, but one black sedan was left exposed. Perhaps the owner didn’t believe the sign. We watched, amazed, as several birds carefully pecked off all the black rubber around the windows. It looked like they were eating the wipers as well. And let’s not forget the extremely acidic vulture droppings burning their way through the nice, shiny paint job.

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By the Birds, For the Birds

blkforest-co_lah_8039This year, the birds planted themselves a garden.

I have half a dozen bird feeders scattered around our yard. Some hold millet, others contain suet, and a small feeder near the house is full of tiny, black nyjer seeds specifically for the goldfinches and Pine Siskins. But the most popular feeders are the ones full of black oil sunflower seeds.

House Finches, jays, nuthatches and chickadees, magpies, grosbeaks—all are attracted to the sunflower seeds. (So are squirrels, but they only get the spilled seeds on the ground.) While the finches sit contentedly on the feeder, munching away, the jays, nuthatches and chickadees tend to swoop in, grab a seed (or three, in the case of the jays), and hightail it to the relative safety of a convenient branch. There they open the shell and extract the seed before returning to the feeder for their next bite.

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Red-Winged Blackbirds

As birders, we have a tendency to sneer at common species, even disparaging them as “trash birds.” One of my birding resolutions for 2011 is to learn to appreciate all species, no matter how mundane. Learning more about their lifestyles is a step in that direction.

red-winged-blackbird_fcnc-co_lah_1218-aEven before I was a birder, I could identify the male Red-winged Blackbird. Found in shallow marshes and other wetlands around the country, the black bird with the red and yellow shoulders is a familiar sight. Even the little drainage pond at the end of our street, with its sparse patch of cattails, is home to a few of these noisy blackbirds. Continue reading “Red-Winged Blackbirds”